Political Positioning And Change
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo did a great thing when he maneuvered the New York State legislature into approving gay marriage. Part of why he did it, in my view, was a question of political positioning. Aside from the accomplishment, what was Cuomo looking for? In my view, stories like this one by Nate Silver:
[T]he type of leadership that Mr. Cuomo exercised ó setting a lofty goal, refusing to take no for an answer and using every tool at his disposal to achieve it ó is reminiscent of the stories sometimes told about with President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had perhaps the most impressive record of legislative accomplishment of any recent president. Itís also a brand of leadership that many Democrats I speak with feel is lacking in President Obama.
There is, in my view, a fatigue building among Democrats regarding President Obama's political style, his vaunted Post Partisan Unity Schtick (really just a variant on the old Clinton/DLC Third Way Schtick.) Obviously that is not meaningful to 2012 in terms of who the nominee will be - the President will not be challenged. But it is meaningful for 2016. Thus, when Silver writes:
Whoever is the Democratic nominee in 2016, he or she will almost certainly endorse same-sex marriage, as about two-thirds of Democratic voters already do. But itís unlikely that any of them will be able to better Mr. Cuomoís accomplishment. Particularly if Mr. Obama loses next year, his approach toward leadership is one that many Democratic voters will have an appetite for.
We know what he is driving at - Andrew Cuomo will be running for President in 2016. And one of the things he will be pointing to is how he achieved a progressive policy on gay marriage. Unstated but implied will be the contrast to President Obama that Silver describes.
I used to joke about wanting everyone in Congress to run for President. The reason for this is that when Democrats are considering running for President, they become much more progressive. This is the image they must project to have a chance at winning. In 2008, President Obama signalled his "progressiveness" mainly by highlighting his opposition to the Iraq Debacle, something his main rivals could not do.
Andrew Cuomo now has his progressive accomplishment, and it is a big one.
When I write this it is not intended to slight what Cuomo has done. This is my prism for all politicians. "Pols are pols and do what they do." It is, in my view, the activist and the citizen's task to figure out how to understand the political impulse and to strategize accordingly in order to effectuate the changes they desire.
In his diary today, David Mizner writes:
Anger over the President's performance is understandable. But ahistorical criticism that exaggerates his awfulness or imputes to him unusually dark motives discredits critics and, more importantly, minimizes the work that needs to be done. In case you missed the point of this post, let me stress: it has little to do with President Obama; it's about what the left should be. Barack Obama is an American president, doing his thing. We need to do ours.
I agree but would go further. Discussion of the President's "motives" is silly. His overriding "motive" is winning election, which is proper in a politician. That is their role. Understanding that motivation is critical to pushing for "change." It leads to my refrain:
As citizens and activists, our allegiances have to be to the issues we believe in. I am a partisan Democrat it is true. But the reason I am is because I know who we can pressure to do the right thing some of the times. Republicans aren't them. But that does not mean we accept the failings of our Democrats. There is nothing more important that we can do, as citizens, activists or bloggers than fight to pressure DEMOCRATS to do the right thing on OUR issues. And this is true in every context I think. Be it pressing the Speaker or the Senate majority leader, or the new hope running for President. There is nothing more important we can do. Nothing. It's more important BY FAR than "fighting" for your favorite pol because your favorite pol will ALWAYS, I mean ALWAYS, disappoint you. In the middle of primary fights, citizens, activists and bloggers like to think their guy or woman is different. They are going to change the way politics works. They are going to not disappoint. In short, they are not going to be pols. That is, in a word, idiotic. Yes, they are all pols. And they do what they do. Do not fight for pols. Fight for the issues you care about. That often means fighting for a pol of course. But remember, you are fighting for the issues. Not the pols.
With regard to President Obama, I think the time for trying to shape his policy goals is just about over. Less than 18 months to the 2012 election, the President's men and women are not likely to be swayed by pressure. (And it is not clear that Presidents generally can deliver much after the first year of their Presidency anyway, outside of court nominations.) Their eyes are solely on what will get them more votes in November 2012 (and more votes from the entire electorate.) Most in the Dem Party will of course vote for him, and rightly so (if for no other reason than the Supreme Court.)
But someone will succeed the President, either in 2012 or 2016. After 2008, perhaps a little more realism about politicians will be more welcome and may lead to a more effective progressive activism.
Speaking for me only
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